In the build up to this weekend’s Six Nations opening fixtures, Gordon O’ Callaghan, Sam Geoghegan and Kevin Beirne sat down to discuss the upcoming event
This year’s Six Nations tournament has been tipped by many to be the most open in years. England, Wales and Ireland are going into their first fixtures with injury problems in the back row, front row and back three respectively. Scotland and Italy are improving and are no longer viewed as the whipping boys. The French seem to be in a state of continuous change under coach Marc Livermont. But with this being a World Cup year, all of the national coaches will be keeping one eye on September, and hoping to build on a potential grand slam with World Cup success.
Gordon: Should we sacrifice not winning a grand slam to breed some of the squad players for the World Cup?
Sam: I don’t think we are going to win a grand slam if we wanted to. I don’t think we are talented enough.
Kevin: I think that we have a chance of winning a slam, but I don’t think that we will.
Gordon: Are France the favourites then?
Sam: It depends on what French team shows up.
Gordon: On paper are they the favourites?
Sam: Yeah, but I don’t think that you can discount England either.
Kevin: England? I see them coming third or fourth.
Gordon: I think that we could win a slam if we get some of our injured players back after the Italian game.
Kevin: Yeah that’s my worry that there are so many people out.
Gordon: With all the injuries, is there a possibility they could lose against Italy?
Sam: Yeah, of course there is, and especially in Rome.
Kevin: We haven’t lost to them yet, but we have come close a few times.
Gordon: If we are not going to win a slam, where are we going to lose it?
Kevin: At home to France.
Kevin: I can see it being within a try, being painstakingly close again and failing.
Gordon: Are we a worse team or better team than when we won the slam two years ago?
Kevin: I think we have better players in some positions, but I am not sure if we have a better team.
Sam: I would say we have a worse starting 15, but we are a better squad.
Gordon: Who is going to be the stand out player for Ireland?
Sam: Johnny Sexton
Kevin: Jamie Heaslip, and potentially Sean O’Brien to make a mark.
Sam: It’s going to be a Leinster player. I think that Cian Healy could make huge strides.
Gordon: Is there a dark horse this year?
Kevin: Wales are a weird team, you never know what you are going to get.
Gordon: Can Scotland or Wales win the six nations?
Kevin: I don’t think Scotland can, Wales might be able to, just because they have been there and done it before.
Gordon: Who is going to be the player of the tournament, outside of Ireland?
Kevin: Whoever plays scrum half for France?
Sam: Johnny Wilkinson
Gordon: I’m saying Kelly
Under Eddie O’Sullivan, it seemed as though it was harder to lose your place in the Ireland team than it was for a Fianna Fáil TD to lose their seat. Oh how times have changed. Declan Kidney has shown he is not afraid to blood young talent, something he must continue to do in this Six Nations with the World Cup waiting at the end of the year. His team selection for the next five tests will tell us a lot about his vision for Ireland in the autumn, but don’t expect him to stray too much from the old-guard.
Gordon: So looking towards the first game, we’ve got Heaslip out and Flannery too.
Sam: We’re missing Hayes as well.
Gordon: Would Hayes have started anyway? For now, is it Mike Ross or Tom Court in the front row?
Kevin: I’d have Ross. Court is a handy player to have on the bench because he can play either side, but he’s not a starter.
Sam: And Court just turned 30 the other day. On the other side, Healy is developing but his scrummaging needs to improve.
Sam: Is Best going to be fit?
Kevin: Cronin might have to come in, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that.
Gordon: Even with the question marks over his throwing?
Kevin: Well he just offers so much in every other aspect of his game – ball-carrying, hitting rucks and he’s so fast!
Gordon: How about Leo Cullen or Donnacha O’Callaghan?
Kevin: On form it has to be Cullen. I’d like to see Toner in there, even just against Italy and Scotland.
Gordon: Well Toner’s been at Leinster since 2005, is he really the future for Ireland, or do we just lack depth at that position?
Kevin: Well recently I’ve seen a lot more in him. I just think O’Callaghan is dipping.
Sam: I’d keep Donnacha in there, just because he’s tried and tested.
Sam: Reddan has played with Sexton for longer than any of them. I also think Reddan’s more experienced and can speed up the tempo.
Kevin: Yeah, with Boss on the bench.
Gordon: Will we see Sexton for the whole tournament?
Sam: Well he’s such a confidence player.
Kevin: At centre, it’s D’Arcy and O’Driscoll
Gordon: Does that partnership still have the quality at the highest level? Is there an argument for including McFadden?
Kevin: I can’t see that happening. One of them would have to be missing an arm and a leg to be taken out.
Gordon: Well, most of our injuries are in the back three
Sam: Tommy Bowe, Trimble, Horgan, Murphy and Kearney are out, so no full back.
Gordon: But we’ve still got Earls as a good try-scorer on the left wing.
Kevin: I don’t think much of Earls. I feel he’s taken a few steps backwards in the past season or two.
Gordon: I’d agree that he gets exposed in the centre because of his size, but on the left wing he’s got pace.
With the World Cup kicking off in New Zealand next September, this year’s Six Nations tournament is once again a major factor in Ireland’s ambitions and a rich insight into the team’s readiness for the challenge. The question, therefore, is whether Ireland should use the Six Nations as preparation for the biggest tournament in world rugby, or should Declan Kidney’s men look to the short term and aim for Grand Slam glory. The long-term plans and preparations of countries such as France and Australia, which have been in place since 2007, suggest that both may not go hand-in-hand.
Gordon: Should we potentially sacrifice a Grand Slam to breed some of the squad players in for the World Cup?
Sam: This time next year, Kidney has to take away most of that squad as the World Cup will be over and we’ll hopefully be building for 2015.
Kevin: We’ve picked a bad time for it, every team seems to build for a World Cup but our progression is two years off.
Gordon: Are these guys coming up, excluding O’Brien, like Ryan, O’Malley, McFadden, Johnnie Murphy, Sean Cronin, as good as we think they are or are they being carried a little by the players around them? Will McFadden be as good as D’Arcy was at his peak? Will Fitzgerald be as good as Hickie was when he was in his prime?
Kevin: I think it’s very hard to compare because there are so many intangibles that go into it. D’Arcy was a flop at wing until they moved him to centre and suddenly he’s the golden boy. Heaslip came into an established Irish team and now he’s considered world class.
Gordon: O’Driscoll came in so soon after professionalism, so too did Stringer and O’Gara. They knew what it was like to struggle in an underperforming Irish team. Do the younger guys need to have that experience to give them that hunger and drive?
Kevin: Maybe, but you could say winning is a mentality.
Gordon: Would you swap a semi-final for a Grand Slam?
Sam: I’d take a Grand Slam because what good is a semi-final? What good is losing to one of the powerhouses in the semis? It would be great for the team to have another Grand Slam and/or trophy. It’s the last chance for the Golden Generation to win a World Cup. They’ve got the Heineken Cups and the Grand Slam; why not try to complete the set?
Gordon: Are we in a better position to win the World Cup if we win the Six Nations?
Kevin: There’ll be a lot more pressure and expectations
Gordon: We’ve never dealt with that before
Kevin: We’d be targeted a lot more
Gordon: Is it better to come in under the radar into the World Cup rather than winning a Grand Slam?
Sam: I’d rather us not win the Grand Slam but only if that made us more prepared and equipped to cope with the pressure of a World Cup.
Kevin: I’d love to win the Grand Slam and use that as a platform for the World Cup but it’ll be difficult.